This node is essentially an attempt at formulating a cohesive, if rudimentary,
anarcho-communitarian theory (I am deliberately avoiding the somewhat similar
"anarcho-communism" because a community is both far more and far less than a
commune; see below). First, it outlines those problems of
contemporary society which appear to be unfixable by conventional means; then,
it puts forth a critique of mainstream resistance and opposition movements;
finally, it tries to indicate a direction for further resistance to develop. I
will often not directly cite the literature, since an ill-picked quote can
sometimes do more than an opponent to misrepresent an author's work. Instead, I
refer to the bodies of work of the authors I reference--a list of good starting
points follows the main body. I apologize in advance for the US-centricity of
this writeup; many or most of the issues I bring up apply mainly to the US, but
the others apply to the other Western nations. Also, I would like to recognize
the fact that most of my radical ideas have already occurred to Paul
Goodman (1911-1972); I am merely attempting to elaborate, expand, and
update his theories for the 21st century.
Our mass media have little difficulty in selling
particular interests as those of all sensible men. The political needs of
society become individual needs and aspirations, their satisfaction promotes
business and the commonweal, and the whole appeals to be the very embodiment of
Reason. And yet this society is irrational as a whole. Its productivity is
destructive of the free development of human needs and faculties, its peace
maintained by the constant threat of war, its growth dependent on the repression
of the real possibilities for pacifying the struggle for existence - individual,
national, and international.
Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man
The title of this section refers to a 1945 book by Henry Miller, where he
describes his travels across the United States. This book--as well as its
counterpart in many ways, Simone de Beauvoir's 1948 America Day By
Day--is striking, because so little has changed in these 60 years.
Reading the theoretical works of the 40s-60s produces a similar impression:
aside from increasing globalization and the development of the Internet, there
is not much that we must confront now that the theorists of the mid-20th
century didn't address already. Even the demise of the Soviet Union failed to
change the character of the Nightmare substantially enough to force major
changes to the superstructure.
The post-WWII paradigm of development remains the foundation of modern
capitalism and the
technocratic imperative remains the guiding principle of government (don't be
fooled by the distrust of science shown by some American administrations; the
love of magic and the occult did not prevent Nazi Germany from becoming an
eminently technocratic state). By "technocratic imperative" I mean the
relentless drive toward rationalization; the replacement, at every
opportunity, of human judgment with that of committees and computers; the appeal
to natural science principles in the social sciences--particularly those geared
toward the "control" aspect of their mission; and, most significantly for an
anarchist theory, the weeding out of local, organic, and human institutions in
favor of artificial ones imposed from above. One side effect of all this is
that there is even less asylum for an outcast or a criminal than there
was 50 years ago, when Paul Goodman wrote that the youth of his day were
convinced that they would be eventually caught and duly punished for even the
slightest violation of the law--the little computer terminals in police
cruisers are more terrifying than the sharp halberds of medieval guards.
The Internet, the most significant social innovation of the past forty
years, deserves a special look. Proponents of grassroots social movements
typically hail it as providing a forum for exchange of ideas and for
interpersonal connection the likes of which the world had never seen.
Political parties and organizations often use the World Wide Web as their
sole medium of communication, the members never even meeting each other. But the
suggestion that this has the potential for much increased decentralization, it
appears to me, is hype mixed with a good deal of wishful thinking (thankfully,
now the hype of the mid-90s has mostly died down, though things like blogs and
Howard Dean's presidential race still generate flurries of it). From an organizational standpoint,
the Internet is dangerous, at least for anarchist groups--the most important thing to
remember about it is that it is fundamentally one of the most centralized
systems on the planet. The root nameservers are controlled by
government-affiliated corporations; beyond that, it is fairly obvious that the
amount of bandwidth and hardware needed to maintain a significant and
widely-accessible WWW presence is beyond the means of most private citizens.
Furthermore, electronic activity can be far more easily logged, tracked, and
followed up on than movement in the physical world--though even that is becoming
more of a Panopticon every year, with permanent video cameras and constant
surveillance of public places.
It is entirely possible at this point that you agree with what I have written
thus far, but disagree that it is really any sort of problem. After all,
technocracy has obvious promise: universal employment, easy access to
consumer goods, reduction of crime, universal health care (for non-US
countries). I would like to approach this in a roundabout fashion.
There is an old political jab (I don't remember where I first read
A communist and a capitalist were looking at a
magnificent mansion. The communist said, "No man should have
so much!" The capitalist looked at him and said, "No, every man
should have so much."
This contains, in a nutshell, the main assumption that goes into capitalism: eventually, every person with a will to work for it will have a
magnificent mansion. When technocracy enters the picture, this becomes structurally impossible, because the prosperity and rationalization of one part of the system depends on the continuing worsening of conditions in other parts.
masses of starving sick Africans, American poor, and Asian sweatshop peons are
not an accident that can be remedied by throwing aid or sanctions at it. They
are, in fact, one of the conditions for the way of life of those in developed
countries. Consumer goods are cheap in the West because of cheap labor in
China, Southeast Asia, and Latin America. In many cases, the reason for the
cheapness of labor is the lack of labor legislation and the infantile
economies of countries such as the Dominican Republic. In the case of
China, the situation is slightly different: Chinese labor is so cheap
because the government deliberately keeps the yuan low to attract Western
business looking for that same cheap labor. So, in a sense, the "free market"
in the West owes much of its success to the machinations of an authoritarian
communist dictatorship. In the other cheap-labor countries, the economy
remains underdeveloped because of a lack of investment--but investors don't
like such enormous risks, and they will continue to invest in Western
companies. The profound immiseration of the country then results in
political instability, which in turn increases risk greatly and further
removes the incentive to invest. At this point, the IMF hands a fat dollop
of cash to the leadership, ensuring by the conditions of the loan that
circumstances remain favorable to exploitation by Western companies, and by
its amount that coups remain more profitable than elections. In many cases,
the labor isn't even needed, and the country is exploited for its resources,
or left alone entirely to collapse and starve (as happened with many African
Even without a geopolitical context, an underclass is absolutely
necessary for a capitalist economy to function: someone must be a janitor,
someone must be a dead-end food-service worker. There is, of course, a drive to
move up in the world, but now the upper-class white executives of major media
companies have succeeded in convincing many lower and middle class black and
Hispanic youth that poverty is a desirable state and money obtained is better
spent on appearance than middle-class housing (which is true enough, since the
middle-class jobs are all filled anyway and the minority family will be
ridiculed in the suburbs for working a blue-collar job; it's the cynical
self-perpetuation of it that bugs me--as one writer once said, "America forces
the Negro to become a shoe-shiner, then calls him inferior because he is a
shoe-shiner."). This isn't much better than the fate of many poor white youth,
who have either been convinced that poverty is where the niggers and spics are
and thus they aren't actually poor, or that they are worthless uneducated
rednecks that have no place in forward-thinking liberal social programs.
Even the Economist, free-market apologist rag par excellence, has
recently noted the decreasing social mobility in the United States.
The European nations and Canada (and, perhaps, the other Commonwealth
countries), through a combination of enlightened social policy, comparatively
low class stratification, and national temperament, have far fewer issues of
this sort. However, prosperity in many of them is achieved through draconian
immigration controls; in those countries that have relaxed them, social tensions
and a permanent underclass have arisen. Granted, it is far easier to be
poor in Germany than to be poor in the United States, because welfare
spending is high and poverty is not considered an infectious disease that
renders the sufferer ritually unclean and unfit for society. Still, it is
important to realize that non-US first world nations are as complicit in, and
benefit as much from, the global network of injustice.
The spiritual dimension
Before my liberal readers start stroking themselves, I would like to
point out that the technocracy as it exists today is almost entirely a
product of postwar liberal social policy. The drive for full employment,
for example, with its accompanying lack of comprehension of the nature of the
work being done and the attitude of the worker toward it, is a liberal idea.
Meaningful work is now rare and difficult to live on, especially for the lower
classes. Endless rows of white-collar workers sit and shuffle papers from one
box to the next, for 8 hours a day, 250 days a year, until they retire. Once
someone has enough training invested in a career, it is very difficult to
extricate oneself from it, and there is the ever-present threat, not of
unemployment, but of having to work for minimum wage. The ever-expanding, ever
more centralized, and ever more mind-destroying system of compulsory public
education is also the product of liberal thinking. To be fair, the excesses of
laissez-faire economics were also horrible, though in different ways. In the
United States, technocracy and laissez-faire have apparently joined in an unholy
union, giving the populace two monstrous social jackhammers for the price of
There is also the crippling spiritual dimension of the technocracy, which
has been described by nearly every radical Sixties author, from Marcuse to Guy
Debord to Raoul Vaneigem. People chase after another few years of life
without any consideration for the raw and unquantifiable quality of it.
Exposés of "welfare abusers" point an accusing finger at the unemployed, who
have committed the unpardonable sin of owning a television--with
cable!--and a refrigerator without paying for them with the company
scrip. The Gross Domestic Product is presented as having a direct and
immediate impact on the happiness of individual citizens; it is something
they must fight for by consuming greedily in the face of prudence, much like
Soviets were enjoined to help build communism by making sixty thousand buttons
in a shift rather than fifty. In the United States, the conclusive argument
against European-style mixed economies is their low GDP and comparatively
high unemployement--completely ignoring the fact that, once again, it is far
better to be chronically unemployed in Austria than to work at a Wal-Mart in
Omaha. In the bigger scheme of things, those who earn fifty thousand
dollars a year are not much worse off than those earning two hundred
thousand--indeed, the latter rarely have time to enjoy the fruits of their
labors. With a higher level of income comes the necessity of buying a
bigger house, a bigger car, a bigger television, and so on, but the utility
of a 10 bedroom mansion is not much greater than that of a 3 bedroom house.
I could go on, but the point, I believe, is clear enough.
One of the most important elements of the technocracy is its manipulation
of science for its own benefit, a relationship that superficially appears
advantageous to scientists (greater exposure, funding, public interest) but
proves, at a closer look, to be destructive--much like the interactions
between the State and the Church in the Byzantine empire. The process by
which enlightenment is destined to turn into irrationality is documented by
Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer in The Dialectic of
Enlightenment; whether they are right or not, the technocracy clearly
undermines its own foundations.
The crucial element in this undermining is
the popularization of science, particularly by the mass media. The tacit
understanding of the scientific world that a single study is very rarely
enough to prove a broad hypothesis is entirely ignored; articles and TV
spots routinely appear which claim that it has now been DEFINITIVELY PROVEN
THAT LEEKS REDUCE CHOLESTEROL, and when a month later the news is forgotten,
a new study appears that shows that LEEKS INCREASE RISK OF HEART DISEASE.
This phenomenon is by no means limited to health news. For example, when
Harvard president Larry Summers recently made some comments to the effect
that women are biologically designed to be nurses ('nurses' is the
only occupation he named), he immediately drew criticism. This criticism
then drew criticism of its own, to the effect that blocking off an area of
research is like cutting off a baby's arm. The most insightful of the
counter-counter-critics, then, brought up the perfectly correct point that
dragging a careful and subtle scientific process into the limelight distorts
the results and exaggerates the differences between the sexes. Pop psychology,
of which media exaggeration is one branch, is one of the most powerful forces
working against real science.
The apotheosis of this effect was reached
with the 1994 publication of The Bell Curve (I admit, I am biased in
this respect; I have frequently thought about hunting down Charles Murray and
strangling him with his own intestines). The book gathered together a
hodgepodge of manipulated data, unproven premises, unjustified assumptions, and
frank racism. These are somewhat par for the course when it comes to
pseudoscientific racial "science"; however, the crucial difference between
The Bell Curve and the work of someone like J. Philippe Rushton is
the method of publicization. The book was released immediately to the
press, without first going to colleagues in the field for "peer review" of
sorts, as would be normally done for any purportedly scientific tome. As a
result, opponents of the book were forced to provide superficial critiques
without the benefit of exhaustive source-checking and numerical analysis.
These later showed the sometimes tremendous degree to which the authors
massaged their data, and the much lower IQ differences between races that
resulted from the misrepresentations being rectified were simply not enough to
support the book's thesis.
Another result of the popularization of science is the continuing erosion of
the humanities. Even history, which, one would think, is
irreplaceable, is being turned into a kind of sordid biological inquiry,
which makes for poor and oversimplified history--the most popular historical
books in years were written by a biologist (Jared Diamond), and it appears
that he believes not being a professional historian entitles him to make gross
leaps of logic unparalleled even in the nineteenth century. But even in
psychology, sociology, and philosophy, biological theories are sovereign. It is
easier to fit "consciousness is the lighting up of certain areas of our brain"
into a soundbite than to adapt Being and Nothingness to it. Very
little is now popularly considered to be learned or socialized, everything is in
our genes. This is rich soil for theories like Murray's; in fact, almost any
biological determinist theory will lead to conclusions such as his, and,
indeed, will finish by saying that every principal social role and aspect of the human
being is preprogrammed by nucleic acids, a vicious Calvinist god for the
Information Age. Who needs philosophy, when neurology can tell us everything
we can possibly want to know?
I am not a Luddite, unlike many anarchists. I do not believe science is
inherently evil and technocratic: scientists were around since before the
Enlightenment, and they undoubtedly advanced (and continue to advance) the
human condition--whether through prevention of the most terrifying diseases,
or through greater understanding of the nature of the universe. Science
can be a thing of beauty, and it is only when it is used to rationalize and
regiment human life that it becomes stultifying and oppressive. The
comparison to the Church I drew earlier applies here as well. Religion which is
freely chosen is a beautiful and positive thing; religion which is used as
an instrument of the ruling order becomes a whip.
Much like the kings of old ruled by "divine right," technocracy draws its
justification from "science."
Attempts at opposition
Struggles between forces, all of which have been
established for the purpose of running the same socioeconomic system,
are...passed off as real antagonisms. In actuality these struggles partake of a
real unity, and this on the world stage as well as within each nation.
Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle
What we call "politics" is electioneering and
office-holding. We are so used to the nation-state and its bureaucratic
lumberings that most of us have lost the taste for direct action on public
issues. Nonetheless few fail to notice the distance between a private citizen's
desires and the machinations of government.
There is, at present, a great deal of resentment and hatred of the order
of things. However, this is not apprehended as such: it is seen as being
directed toward certain transitory and changeable aspects of the current
system. I am here mainly thinking of young people (my assumption, which
seems reasonable, is that radical political change is chiefly the aspiration
of the young) who appear to believe that George W. Bush is the root of global
injustice and that the election of a John Kerry or even of a Dennis Kucinich
would radically alter the dynamics of politics and power. The list could also
include libertarians who think electing an LP candidate would help destroy the
welfare state, or devout Christians who believe that electing a similarly devout
candidate would ensure that the system follows Christian principles (though
these last would presumably have abandoned this hope after four years of this
This part of the node, then, is dedicated to showing that these hopes are
quite vain. Note that this is not an attempt to shoehorn the platform of any
party into the anarcho-communitarian framework and then call it deluded when it
doesn't fit; it is rather something of a plea to realign means with
When one compares the U.S. college students and other young people of 1969
with those of 2005, e is struck precisely by that contrast between the
similarity of ends and the difference of means. The goals have remained
similar: the development of a "participatory democracy"; an end to sexism,
racism, and imperialism; an end to globalization, already an emerging
phenomenon in the sixties; environmental protection; the promotion of social
justice and equal rights at home. The means, on the other hand, are very
different: essentially, overthrow of the United States government (or sympathy
toward those who attempt it) versus political support for mainstream centrist
(in the U.S., this means moderate-right-wing) Democratic politicians. In
Europe, the situation is somewhat similar, though the youth of today dislike the
established order far less than the youth of May '68. Danny Cohn-Bendit,
once an outspoken leader of the French radical student movement, is now a
But, the astute reader asks, what did the counterculture ever accomplish?
The answer cannot be a simple "Nothing." More than anything else, what the
counterculture put forth was a hurled insult in the face of the technocracy:
Marcuse's Great Refusal in action. This insult was self-absorbed, immature,
arrogant, wilfully ignorant, and unrealistic--all unacceptable characteristics
that ultimately led to the counterculture's downfall. Nevertheless, for a few
brief years there existed a real standoff between the shocked bourgeoisie and
those who worked at dismantling its power. Inevitably and predictably, the
technocracy soon recovered and bought off the marketable parts of the
movement, discarding the rest. But whether it was in the form of Aquarian
communes or Weatherman cells, the alternative existed during those years as a
force to be reckoned with.
The punk subculture, even in its most sincere incarnations, never reached
this sort of peak. Perhaps this comes from its distaste for large or
medium-scale collective action; perhaps from its origins in the lower-middle
class rather than the upper-middle (and thus, command of fewer resources);
perhaps from its preference for alcohol, opiates, and amphetamines rather than
psychedelics. Either way, while the "real" punks were certainly committed to
a Refusal (probably more so than many latecomers to the 60s movement), they did
not constitute any sort of a critical mass or even a catalyst for further
change, as the 60s movement did.
This brings me to today. In the 00s, high school and college
campuses are filled with the debris of these movements: hippies concerned
mainly with obtaining legal sanction for their drug use, punks who comb down
their mohawks to canvass for John Kerry. Individual variations do exist, but
the defining element of a counterculture--that in order to belong to it, one
has to confront and reject the dominant culture--is conspicuously absent.
When young liberals place their trust in mainstream politicians, they are
making a compromise with power. This is a compromise which is absolutely
necessary for any republic: "I will put away my most extreme demands in
exchange for some of my more moderate ones." However, in this case, the
compromise is a hopeless one, for two reasons. Firstly, as I have attempted to
sketch out above, certain injustices and monstrosities are an integral part of
the system, and thus no compromise can hope to eliminate them. Secondly, and
most tragically, the compromise is not even accepted by the other side.
In the United States, demands for such reasonable, liberal, bourgeois things as
a universal health care system or a significant reduction in defense spending
are met with rather simian howls demanding the ejection of the godless radicals
from the Democratic tent. But once the compromise is rejected, the "radicals"
do not disappointedly go back to being truly radical. Instead, they move closer
to the center--and if they don't, the next generation will.
To sum up: the goals of many young people are similar to those of young
people in the 60s, but their means are those which had been evaluated by
every counterculture and found wanting. When their methods result in
failure, their goals are not only not achieved, but those who support them are
robbed of a visible alternative to the status quo (seen broadly). Once
compromise begins, it does not stop and reverse course.
The Right countercultures
I apologize for my preoccupation with the left counterculture. I am
significantly less familiar with the right-wing countercultures (I feel it is
possible to call them that, because there have been attempts at libertarian or
religious Refusals). There are certain things that strike me about
The fundamental goals of libertarianism are fairly clear: reduction of
government to an entity that provides only defense, law and order, and contract
enforcement, or as close to this as possible; elimination of government
intervention in personal and economic affairs; elimination of entanglement
between business and government in any form. The goal of radical
religious conservatism is also clear: organization of government so that it
follows as closely as possible the legal framework of the given
religion--the Sharia, Talmudic law, Biblical law, etc.
The main non-ideological difference between the right and left
countercultures is that more moderate or idiosyncratic right-wingers see it
as extremely important to distance themselves from the extremes of the
Right--namely white supremacist and militia movements. Past associations with
the more extremist elements of the Students for a Democratic Society hurt a
liberal politician far less than past associations with the Aryan Nations
would hurt a conservative. As a result, libertarians and religious conservatives
are driven into the arms of mainstream politicians even more inexorably than
left-wingers are. Perhaps the Libertarian Party and its unintentionally
hilarious internal dynamic is an attempt to forge the more committed
libertarians into a bloc distinct from the Republicans that still wields
political influence on the mainstream (much like the Greens are supposed to be
the Democrats' more leftist cousins). This compromise brings forward the same
issues that the left's does, namely that it is not accepted and those truly
dedicated to, for instance, the minimization of government are forced to further
compromise with a system which is antithetical to their beliefs (government is
getting bigger, not smaller).
It is always amusing to hear former New Left revolutionary David
Horowitz harp on how radical academia is. Not that he doesn't have a point:
from his own frankly reactionary vantage point, nearly everything short of
Ayn Rand looks radical. To reasonable people, however, academia is simply
liberal (in 2004, the vast majority of academics voted for John Kerry, not David
Cobb or Ralph Nader!).
I do have qualms with this ideological distribution. The university is
supposed to be a home for new and radical ideas. The placid
liberalism that distinguishes academics today is not the product of original
and fervent thought; it is the vague discontent of a mule that has begun
to find eating thistles tiresome. At the same time, this support for the
most mediocre candidate somehow coexists with the most stringent
verbal dedication to radical causes, as the ready reception faux-academic
"liberal" nutcase Ward Churchill has received in colleges throughout the
One truly radical mode of thinking that has a number of adherents in
the university (though far less than twenty years ago) is postmodernism, or
more specifically poststructuralism. The question of whether
poststructuralism/postmodernism really contributes to radical theory is a thorny
To address this question, it is necessary to separate out the various
positions that have relevance here.
- First is the late-modern critical theory one. This is essentially the
work of the Frankfurt School along with Jürgen Habermas. This is
unquestionably useful to radicals; Herbert Marcuse, referenced several times in
this writeup, produced some of the most profound critiques of modern society,
as did Erich Fromm. Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer produced similarly
perceptive critiques of art and the media in modern society.
- Second is the strictly Enlightenment-modernist work of people like
Talcott Parsons. These are the philosophical underpinnings to
technocracy; they are useful perhaps in a know-your-enemy sense.
- Third is the postmodernism of Jean-François Lyotard. This is a
difficult one, because Lyotard is a) diametrically opposed to the critical
theorists, and b) supports liberal democracy and the status quo. On the
other hand, he believes that Parsons is essentially full of shit and doomed
to failure. He is also wrong in his core view: that 'grand narratives' of
modernism are somehow dead or faded away. There appears to be no evidence
that science is today any less an integral part of the technocracy or that the
technocracy justifies itself any less with grand narratives today than in
1940. He appears to be something of a liability.
- Jacques Derrida's poststructuralism and deconstruction provide the
philosophical underpinnings to anarchist theory. Totalities are always
unstable, always undermined by their own attempts at universality.
Searching for the final, foundational truth is fruitless and based on a flawed
understanding of 'logos' as transcendental signifier. Poststructuralism
seems to me to be an ideal fit, because after God and Truth, the State is
the last great totality that needs to be deconstructed.
- Finally, there is the Cultural Studies perspective. This is not entirely
postmodernism; instead, it draws on a combination of critical theory and
postmodernist/poststructuralist sources, as well as ones from other fields. Cultural studies have recently
gone the way of postmodernism, falling out of fashion tremendously.
Nevertheless, they provide valuable insight into the mechanics of
technocratic culture and the manipulations of the media, without falling
into the blind embrace of culture-industry "low art" that was the result of the postmodernist
rejection of critical theory.
More generally, postmodernism suffers from a lack of priorities. Instead of
exploring alternatives to current society, it spends its time ferreting
out sexism and racism in it without proposing any changes. Complete pluralism
which is postmodernism's guiding principle more than anything else, is a
tremendously important part of an ideal society. This is why anarchism is a
perfect postmodern political philosophy: it makes privileging narratives of
maleness or whiteness or anything else structurally impossible.
Confronting the eleventh thesis
The philosophers have only interpreted the world in
various ways; the point, however, is to change it.
Karl Marx, Theses on Feuerbach(#11)
So far, I have tried to outline in very general terms the problems of the
technocratic society and the problems of the opposition to it. Below, I will
describe the sort of society I mean when I say "anarcho-communitarian" and leave
off with some considerations of praxis and the viability thereof.
An anarcho-communitarian society is essentially a modern,
technological, civilized version of tribalism. The principal
difference between this and anarcho-communism is that the communities that
are the building blocks of this are not chance associations of people that
happened to drift into the vicinity of one another, but rather culturally
and historically discrete entities. Anarcho-communism and
anarcho-communitarianism are not opposed; the latter is more of a sub-type
of the former, which is not particularly rigid anyway. All the insights of
Prince Kropotkin are just as applicable to it.
At the beginning of the writeup, I wrote that a community is both far
more and far less than a commune. It is far more, because a community must
be built consciously, it must possess a history, a culture, a religion (just as
important as anything else), a way of looking at the world. It can allow
these things and not be oppressive because it is small and entirely
consensual. It is far less, because the things listed above can take on myriad forms; a commune (or free association of humans) is more restrictive,
because the form of a commune already presupposes a certain social contract,
a certain egalitarian attitude. While many find these things to be
desirable, many disagree with the principles of commune living.
What makes this anarchist, then, is not a philosophical determination to
avoid hierarchy at all costs. It is the philosophical determination to
avoid forced hierarchy at all costs. No person in this society need
be involved in any structure e believes undesirable or unduly restrictive.
A forseeable argument is that it would be impossible to make this society
remain modern, technological, and civilized. I do not see this; the
adoption of a form of government belonging to the past does not equate to
the adoption of the level of development that corresponds to it. There are
enough modes of mechanical reproduction now that education need not be
limited to centralized educational institutions, the classics and
non-classics of all times and places can be read or heard essentially
anywhere. The maintenance of a power grid can be the product of an agreement
between several communities--there is nothing preventing the administrative
aspect of the society from being similar to, say, the Swiss canton system.
I am being purposefully vague about the specifics because setting them
out definitively would completely defeat the purpose of the society. The
society becomes what the communities become, together or alone.
If you build it, they will come
The libertarian does not seek to influence groups but to act in the natural groups essential to him--for most human action is the action of groups. Consider if several million persons, quite apart from any "political" intention, did only natural work that gave them full joy! the system of exploitation would disperse like a fog in a hot wind. But of what use is the action, really born of resentment, that is bent on correcting abuses yet never does a stroke of nature?
Paul Goodman, "Reflections on Drawing the Line"
Now, the question arises of how to cause this society to come about. It
is here that I am faced with the crushing and ironic realization that there
is no course of action I could suggest that would do so, because a) even if
they were willing to follow me, it is impossible to move masses of people
without coercing them or inadvertently becoming prey to the technocracy; and
b) any bloody revolution would either result in failure or create precisely
the opposite of the society here envisioned. The consolation that remains is
that after a large-scale nuclear war, this is precisely the sort of society
that is likely to arise (God knows for how long) and nuclear war is fairly
likely to happen within the next several centuries.
Anarcho-communitarianism, then, is almost entirely Utopian in nature.
But the value of a Utopian philosophy rests in the degree to which an
individual can apply its insights and promote it within day-to-day life. Can
an individual help forge communities and undermine imposed hierarchies? The
answer is a resounding yes.
In practice, an anarcho-communitarian would probably try many of the same
things as any anarchist or social-justice activist. Neighborhood
organizations, fighting City Hall, establishing the independence and power
of local groups. Building one's own communities with neighbors, friends, and
family is also important: the point is creating bonds that are stronger than
the chains imposed from above. Any victory over a resented regulation, from
"420 OK" apartment buildings to sabotage of sites forcibly requisitioned from
locals by city government, is a move forward.
However, genuine effort must be distinguished from masturbation.
Buying from and otherwise supporting a neighborhood co-op is genuine effort;
buying organic zucchini from Whole Foods Market is masturbation. A sign
advising residents of a building that police are increasing surveillance of
the area is genuine effort; cute little CrimethInc. posters are masturbation.
"Think globally, act locally" is an excellent catchphrase, if only people
didn't take it to mean "Think globally, fatuously refuse Starbucks coffee
while paying taxes and watching television."
The reason "Think globally, act locally" is such a good slogan is
that it summarizes the limitations of individual activists. It's not that
one has the alternative between acting globally and acting locally; it's
that one can only act locally. Not even voting can count as global action,
because unless you have actually personally convinced a large enough group
of people to vote a certain way, you are only a tickmark that has no more
significance than anyone else. Local issues make all the difference.
All my radical ideas: a brief reading list
- Paul Goodman, Growing Up Absurd: This book is long out of print,
but it is brilliant. Written by an anarcho-communitarian, it deals with the
inadequacies of education and of society, cogently and plainly destroying myths
about how functional it really is. You can find this in your local university
library, along with others of his books, like A New Reformation:
Notes of a Neolithic Conservative, Communitas: Means of
Livelihood and Ways of Life, and his novels (most notably
Making Do and The Empire City).
- Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle: A look at modern
society and how it is "a relationship between people that is mediated by
images." Though it is plainly anti-capitalist, it is unforgiving of the
- Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man: The definitive
analysis of the (negative) psychological and philosophical impact of
- Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, The Dialectic of
Enlightenment: Literary, psychological, sociological, and
philosophical inquiry into the development and eventual transformations of
- Raoul Vaneigem, The Revolution of Everyday Life: A glimpse into
just how technocracy takes from us, and how we can get it back.
- Margaret Mead, Male and Female: Makes debates about the genetic
abilities of women look like two astrologers arguing about whether the
world is supported by a turtle or by a tortoise.
- Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology: If you can understand it,
this book is tremendous. Derrida takes metaphysics and chops off its legs,
then graciously allows it to continue standing on them.
- Petr Kropotkin, basically anything: Along with the less appealing Bakunin
and the wondrous Emma Goldman, he forms part of the still-vital legacy of the
- Theodore Roszak, The Making of a Counter Culture: This book
changed my life; it introduced me to Marcuse and Goodman and is, even by itself,
a formidable critique of technocracy. It describes in detail the
modern philosophers that influenced the New Left and the hippies.
This is obviously by no means exhaustive. Enjoy the beauty of the words.